Cell-cell communication is critical to coordinate the activity and behavior of a multicellular organism. The cells of the immune system not only must communicate with similar cells, but also with many other cell types in the body. Therefore, the cells of the immune system have evolved multiple ways to communicate. Exosomes and tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) are two means of communication used by immune cells that contribute to immune functions. Exosomes are small membrane vesicles secreted by most cell types that can mediate intercellular communication and in the immune system they are proposed to play a role in antigen presentation and modulation of gene expression. TNTs are membranous structures that mediate direct cell-cell contact over several cell diameters in length (and possibly longer) and facilitate the interaction and/or the transfer of signals, material and other cellular organelles between connected cells. Recent studies have revealed additional, but sometimes conflicting, structural and functional features of both exosomes and TNTs. Despite the new and exciting information in exosome and TNT composition, origin and in vitro function, biologically significant functions are still being investigated and determined. In this review, we discuss the current field regarding exosomes and TNTs in immune cells providing evaluation and perspectives of the current literature.
Keywords: Cell–cell communication; Exosomes; Multivesicular bodies; Tunneling nanotubes.
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